Friday, February 25, 2005

Watch where you preach

When a University of Texas journalism student plays William Safire in a column, readers tell him he has much to learn.

The column is about a Jon Stewart talk with Alan Cumming, in which Cumming calls the theater "enervating" and "more exciting."
Stewart is baffled. "So that'd be 'fun'?" he asks quizzically. Cumming affirms this assertion, prompting Stewart to repeat his newly acquired word - "Enervating!" - perhaps making a mental note to look it up later. He then adds, "You gotta throw the big words. I hear you." Things aren't going well.

"Yeah, you like that?" Cumming buzzes satisfactorily. As he starts to speak, still-bewildered Stewart cuts him off: "No, I hear it. Believe me." We believe you, Jon. Then, the apogee of the night: In a bizarrely goofy voice, Cumming says, "I'm clever." To this, Stewart responds laughingly, "You're very."

Thus ended a dialogue of complete meaninglessness about a word that neither person really knew but proceeded as though he did.
The columnist then explains what "enervate" means and tells people they could avoid these mistakes by learning Latin.

Readers rightfully, and intelligently, take the columnist to task for not getting Stewart's schtick. One letter writer says:
It is admittedly difficult to educate people on the opinion page without sounding pretentious and condescending, but when you resort to ad hominem, your opinion loses all cogency. I took away from this installment of "The Daily Show" that Jon Stewart knew the meaning of the word "enervate," yet chose not to embarrass his guest on national television. Clint Rainey analyzed this conversation at face value, entirely missing a layer of perspicacity often present when Jon Stewart speaks. As a regular viewer, I know Jon Stewart has been put in similar situations before and acted virtually the same way. Based on your article, Mr. Rainey, I know you have a naïve sense of humor and access to a dictionary.
I didn't see the episode in question, but it seems to me that it didn't really matter if Stewart knew the word or not: He was joking at the fact that the audience probably wouldn't know it, lightening the tone.

The column's notes on the language were all right; the writer just picked the wrong time to use them.


At 3:59 PM, March 02, 2005, Blogger Ralph Hitchens said...

I agree with the letter-writer you quoted. Jon Stewart, for all his satiric genius, is not a mean-spirited person. Sounds to me like he was undoubtedly trying to avoid embarrassing his guest while gently prompting the guest to correct himself.


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